One of the consequences of the Great Recession has been diminished funding for federal parks and sites. The fallout is sad and complicated.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a jewel for North Carolina, and it is the second most visited of the 400 units in the national park system, behind only the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. In 2002, the parkway had 21.5 million visitors. In 2014, there were 13.9 million visitors to the parkway, which runs for 469 miles from the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Cherokee.
But budget cuts forced the closing of some facilities along the road, and some vistas were not maintained by pruning or mowing. The ramifications were deep: Businesses off the parkway, some offering lodging and picnic food for tourists, felt a hit.
And once services and tourist spots suffer, the word gets out among those who make touring national parks their primary leisure activity with their families.
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Going to parks is a proud American tradition and an affordable one for families who can’t spring for fancy resorts or even for four-figure rentals at the beach or in the mountains. Parks are as well a glorious monument to the great outdoors, providing wholesome fun that can’t be duplicated in any other setting. In the parks, some electronic devices don’t even work, and younger people suddenly find, or rediscover, the world out there, the one that can’t be captured on their phones or tablets.
In the 2016 national budget, President Obama is seeking increased funding for national parks, much needed, and a special fund to be applied specifically to the parkway’s overdue needs for maintenance. Those needs have increased dramatically in this period of downsized budgets.
Those employees with the Blue Ridge Parkway organization rightly bow to the contributions of individual volunteers and organizations that have moved to fill the gap left by the layoffs of several hundred employees. What a wonderful spirit is in such people, who recognize they’re paying it forward for the generations to follow.
The parkway and all that surrounds it, from the scenery to those long-standing lodges and other businesses that serve travelers who come from throughout the country, must survive and prosper. It should be a glory to North Carolina. The jewel must shine on.